From the moment Luke Walton was hired as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, one of his most frequently stated goals has been to get the team to improve its ball movement, to find joy in effortlessly flinging the ball around the floor.
The Lakers aren’t yet where Walton wants them to be as a passing team, but he’s seen progress so far this season. “We count our total team passes, and we have a winning record when we get over 300,” Walton said this week.
“We always emphasize that to our players. We’ve gotten a little better at that this past month. That’s something we constantly stay on them about and continue to strive towards.”
The Lakers rank 24th in the league in passes per game with 286.1, and Lonzo Ball leads the team in passes per game with 65.6. Brandon Ingram ranks second (35.2) and Kyle Kuzma sits third (32.3). Julius Randle (31.9) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (27.8) round out the top five.
Larry Nance Jr. (29.8) and Jordan Clarkson (28.3) ranked third and fourth, respectively, on the team.
And while the Lakers’ focus on passing hasn’t led to an improvement in passes per game from last year (when they averaged 288.4) or offensive efficiency (where the Lakers rank 28th after ranking 24th last season), it isn’t just their offense that Walton thinks more passes help will help with.
“When the ball is moving and everyone is getting touches and feeling part of it, it definitely helps with the overall energy we play with on both ends of the floor. You don’t like your defense to be affected by the offense but it’s kind of the reality of our league a lot of times,” he said.
“When guys aren’t getting touches and don’t feel like the ball is moving, then they don’t give the same effort on defense.”
That extra effort is why Walton believes the Lakers have a winning record, which he estimated to be 13-9, when they pass more than 300 times.
Walton also doesn’t see the arbitrary number of 300 passes and consider his goals accomplished. There are specific results he wants to see those passes lead to. “It’s not about just swinging the ball side to side. We want to aggressively attack the paint, then make extra passes once we try to collapse the defense,” Walton explained.
“We also have coach (Miles) Simon track how many passes we take each possession per half. If it’s a zero or one pass, he marks it down. Our numbers go way up when the passes go up,” Walton said.
The more they pass, the Lakers also get into the habit of passing more, with ball movement begetting ball movement as a young team builds habits and starts to play the way Walton wants going forward.
“It’s not just passing to pass,” he repeated. “It is putting in their heads the idea of creating and making plays for others. You can show them when we play a certain way, we give ourselves a much better chance of winning games.”
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